The 90s were a halcyon period. Gaming was just starting to recover from the crash of the 80s and leading that charge was the humble beige box most often used by accountants and secretaries – the PC. Some of the most popular games of this renaissance were adventure games, most notably the wacky insanity of the Monkey Island games. Over the years there have been sequels, but none that hit the heights of the original two. I am happy to report that Return to Monkey Island will tickle all those nostalgic itches.
Back to the 90s
The Monkey Island series has always been one for absurdist slapstick humour – think Monty Python or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (side note: track down the Discworld adventure games, you won’t be sorry). Happily, Ron Gilbert has stuck to this tried-and-true formula on his return after some three or so decades. And it is a triumphant return, as Guybrush Threepwood recounts his latest adventure to one-up the nefarious LeChuck and find that fame and fortune as the pirate who discovers the Secret of Monkey Island that has eluded him all these years.
The central mystery of what exactly *is* “the Secret of Monkey Island” has been a mystery for decades and the game cleverly strings us along with the promise that we, through Guybrush, will finally discover it. This is gaming’s equivalent of the briefcase mystery from Pulp Fiction, although only iconic to those of us who spent hours behind a VGA screen in the 90s. Set immediately after the events of Monkey Island 2, this central mystery, and LeChuck and Guybrush’s obsession with it, is brought up often and leaves many characters wondering just why they are so obsessed. It’s both a great hook for the new story and motivation for those returning to the series (as many people who listen to the fans wax lyrically about the series probably also wonder about our
One aspect of the revival that caused some consternation amongst fans was the new art style – a backlash so vitriolic that it resulted in Ron Gilbert refusing to post updates on social media. People so opposed to the almost modernist style are looking at the original games through rose-tinted glasses. Even I’m guilty of misremembering the graphics and art style of those games from my childhood, convinced they still look close enough to the pixel-art games of today instead of the pixelated blobs that they actually were. The art style may not be traditional, but it is apt and fits the themes and tone of the game perfectly.
To go along with that near-perfect art style, you have the excellent VO work from Dominic Armato who perfectly embodies Guybrush and his earnest, yet at times sarcastic tone when faced with a particularly absurd puzzle or idiotic situation. Sticking to that tone is the excellent soundtrack that evokes the most optimistic views of the heyday of pirating in the Caribbean as a jolly place to do your thieving.
Of course, puzzles are at the heart of any adventure game and those in the original games were particularly nonsensical and frustrating. You would spend ages on a screen playing the mini-game Hunt The Pixel, and its equally sinister companion Figure Out The Correct Sequence Of Objects To Use Together. Thankfully, Return to Monkey Island is not as obtuse as those games and, while the puzzles are a challenge, they aren’t insanely difficult and will not lead you to rage-quitting and turning to the internet for a guidde. Modern Dark Souls fans should try 90s adventure games for a real challenge.
The good news is if you are still struggling with the game, it includes a very handy hint system, but one that doesn’t just give you the solution right away. Rather, it initially gives you small hints to get you on the right track towards that “Eureka” moment when everything clicks and you solve the puzzle. You will not ever need to resort to YouTube to solve the puzzles in this game.
As a result, Return to Monkey Island will delight, but never frustrate both old-school fans and newcomers to the series. The smart assists also make Return to Monkey Island a great intorduction to the genre.
Guybrush’s continuing adventures are amusing and challenging enough over the ten or so hours of gameplay that it should provide any player a satisfying way to spend an evening or two. Of, and for long-time fans, the jokes and characters are layered and interesting enough to make a journey back to the originals inevitable.
As a bonus, for those who are Xbox Game Pass subscribers, you can experience it for yourself from today (8 November 2022) as Return to Monkey Island will be available on the service for both Xbox and PC gamers. The game is also available on Steam and is compatible with the Steam Deck.
A review code for Return to Monkey Island was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Return to Monkey Island (PC) ReviewReturn to Monkey Island (PC) Review
Ease of Play9/10 Amazing
Longevity8/10 Very Good
- An excellent return to the heyday of 90s gaming
- Funny as all heck
- Challenging but never impossible puzzles
- Smart hint system
- Excellent art design
- As a sequel to a 90s classic, it's not going to find as large an audience as it deserves